What 'Molly' - the Silicon Valley elites' drug of choice at sex parties - does to your brain and body

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Exclusive sex parties fueled by drugs like Molly are apparently how the tech world elite like to get down in Silicon Valley, according to an excerpt from Emily Chang's new book, "Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys' Club of Silicon Valley." Chang reported the events, in which women are both pressured to participate yet stigmatized for doing so, are common enough that they're not even really a secret.

Molly - a nickname for MDMA, itself an abbreviation for the drug commonly known as ecstasy - has been a party drug for decades, ever since psychopharmacologist Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin synthesized and tested the drug on himself in the 1970s.

Shulgin, known as the godfather of ecstasy, was entranced by his testing. He began to advocate for the use of MDMA in clinical settings, but it soon started turning up in clubs, leading to a widespread ban in 1985. Once ecstasy developed a reputation for being adulterated with more dangerous chemicals, people starting asking for "Molly" as an allegedly pure form of the drug. Here's what we know about what MDMA does to your body and brain.

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MDMA, "Molly," or ecstasy was created by pharmaceutical company Merck in 1912 and is currently considered an illegal substance in the US with no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse.

MDMA, "Molly," or ecstasy was created by pharmaceutical company Merck in 1912 and is currently considered an illegal substance in the US with no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse.

Contrary to legend, MDMA was not first part of an experiment in suppressing the appetites of soldiers in the German army. Instead, Merck scientists created the chemical while trying to make a drug that would prevent blood clotting. The molecule was abandoned for a while, but had been considered promising because of its similarity to adrenaline.

According to Merck records, it was likely first tested on humans in 1959 and then started to appear every so often in the 1060s and 70s until Shulgin re-created it, was enthralled, and began to push for it to be used in therapy sessions. Its popularity spread.

Nevertheless, the drug remains popular. In the short-term, ecstasy can make you feel good.

Nevertheless, the drug remains popular. In the short-term, ecstasy can make you feel good.

In the brain, MDMA amps up the activity of three key chemical messengers involved in mood regulation: serotonin, norepinephrine and, to a lesser extent, dopamine.

Most of our conclusions about the effects of MDMA have focused on serotonin, one of the most widely-studied neurotransmitters. In addition to acutely affecting mood, serotonin is thought to affect how we sleep and experience pain.

Small neuroscientific studies of the drug suggest it may help blunt negative feelings about the past while enhancing positive ones — a conclusion that would make logical sense given its reputation as a "love drug."

For a small study published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, women were alternately given MDMA and a placebo (without knowing which was which) and asked to recall their favorite and least-favorite memories of themselves. When given the MDMA, the women rated their favorite memories as "significantly more vivid, emotionally intense, and positive," while they rated their worst memories as "less negative," the authors wrote in their paper.

You may also feel more energetic.

You may also feel more energetic.

While some components of MDMA have psychedelic or sensory enhancing-effects, it also has stimulant properties that users report gives them the energy to dance or engage in vigorous physical activity for hours.

MDMA — 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine — is at least in part a derivative of amphetamines, giving it those energy-boosting properties.

Your heart rate will increase on Molly.

Your heart rate will increase on Molly.

A dose of MDMA boosts heart rate and can increase blood pressure, just like other stimulants. Dangerous side effects are much more likely in cases where unknown chemicals (likely amphetamines) have been mixed into ecstasy pills.

And it might also cause you to feel hot or give you the chills.

And it might also cause you to feel hot or give you the chills.

Those same energizing effects that boost heart rate and blood pressure also raise body temperature. Some people experience hot flashes or chills because of this effect.

It's possible that people who have taken ecstasy in a warm place (like a packed club) and spent hours engaging in vigorous physical activity without taking time to cool down could experience a rare side effect, hyperthermia, which requires medical attention. MDMA use does increase the risk of heat stroke.

Dehydration is also a concern in these settings, though there are some people who have harmed themselves by drinking too much water because of that fear, which can be dangerous.

Ecstasy enhances sensory experiences, which is why it's often associated with music events and sex.

Ecstasy enhances sensory experiences, which is why it's often associated with music events and sex.

Not only does ecstasy provide a prolonged euphoric experience, users report that it enhances sensory experiences like music and physical sensations like touch.

Users may be more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, according to at least one small study.

Ecstasy can amplify what you see, feel, and hear.

Ecstasy can amplify what you see, feel, and hear.

Ecstasy is both a stimulant and a psychedelic, meaning it has both energy-raising and hallucinogenic properties. While it may not induce outright hallucinations, MDMA can seem to amplify or enhance what you see, feel, and hear. Activities like dancing, talking, and touching may appear to intensify these feelings even further.

Scientists are studying its potential to help treat PTSD and other psychiatric diseases.

Scientists are studying its potential to help treat PTSD and other psychiatric diseases.

Despite its party drug reputation, neuroscientists and psychologists are hard at work studying MDMA's potential to help treat serious psychiatric diseases like post-traumatic stress disorder. The drug may help users put extremely negative experiences like those of violence or war into perspective, enabling them to move on with their lives in a positive way.

One arm of this research involves studying MDMA in veterans with PTSD. Study participants are given small doses of the drug alongside traditional talk therapy.

Together, the two treatments could help produce faster and more measurable results, according to people involved in the research.

"Psychotherapy is painful, it's slow, it's fits and starts, you start to get to something important and then the patient disappears for a month," Julie Holland, a New York-based psychiatrist and the medical monitor for one MDMA-PTSD study, told Business Insider at a recent psychedelic research conference in London.

"MDMA can act as a catalyst to make the therapy go faster [and] deeper," Holland said.

But more research is needed before it's deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration.

But more research is needed before it's deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is the group leading the charge to get MDMA approved for medical use. Their efforts passed a major hurdle in the summer of 2017 when the US Food and Drug Administration granted it a special designation that could fast-track its approval to treat PTSD.

Because it's still illegal, the ecstasy that is bought and sold on the black market is unregulated — meaning it can be adulterated or mixed with other, cheaper drugs. This can result in a dangerous product that can produce unwarranted side effects.

Many case reports cited in the 1990s that warned of the drug producing "holes in your brain," for example, likely involved adulterated forms of the drug instead of pure MDMA.

The effects of a common dose of MDMA can last up to 6 hours.

The effects of a common dose of MDMA can last up to 6 hours.

A typical dose of 7 or 80 to 125 mg lasts three to six hours.

Some users report nausea while an MDMA high is coming on, but most report relaxation and clarity within about 45 minutes. The peak high, which is often referred to as "rolling," comes on within about an hour to an hour and a half.

Most effects subside after three to five hours, with some people feeling aftereffects a bit longer than that.

Your pupils will dilate, and you may become sensitive to light.

Your pupils will dilate, and you may become sensitive to light.

Like with other drugs, especially many with psychedelic properties, pupils often dilate and users may become sensitive to light.

This effect is caused by drugs rapidly increasing serotonin levels in the brain.

MDMA has also been linked with jaw-clenching and tooth grinding.

MDMA has also been linked with jaw-clenching and tooth grinding.

Just like with other drugs with stimulant properties, MDMA use can lead to jaw-clenching and tooth grinding along with increased heart rate. This effect is likely to be worsened for users taking potentially adulterated pills.

Your muscles may also feel tense, and some people can faint on ecstasy.

Your muscles may also feel tense, and some people can faint on ecstasy.

While MDMA does make people likely to engage in physical activity, the stimulant effects on muscles and perception are varied. Most people's reactions are impaired, some people experience restless legs or muscle stiffness, and in rare cases people have reported fainting.

After taking the drug, some users report a come-down accompanied by feelings of sadness or depression.

After taking the drug, some users report a come-down accompanied by feelings of sadness or depression.

Preclinical studies suggest that using Molly may temporarily deplete the brain's serotonin stores. After the initial "high" wears off, some users report intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, or even depression that can last between one and three days. Some people say it effects their sleeping patterns and appetite as well.

However, since most studies on these effects have been confined to rats, experts say more research on humans is needed to better understand what's going on in the brain.

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